A Visit With Joe

LAST WEEKEND in Woodstock, catching up with people and places, I called up Joe Trusso, my former therapist and mentor, which I usually do when I’m in town. I wanted to stop by for a moment and say hello, get a look at him and let him know I’m doing well. He said come over; we have company, but stop by. I was traveling with Priya Kale, whose blog you read on Page Two of Planet Waves. Few people in my life have ever met Joe, though many have heard of him.

We got there as some relatives were leaving, so he stashed us in his counseling room while he sorted out his household. I hadn’t been in that room for quite a while. Many things were familiar, some were new. He had added a gem case to the space, made of dark-colored wood and glass, lit beautifully with a halogen lamp. In it was a stunning collection of rocks and minerals. I recognized the Herkimer diamonds, fossilized trilobites and a few other things, all of which I knew he had dug out of the ground himself, polished and created into this once in a world presentation. Joe is a Taurus, and this display was the vivid essence of that sign: things of deep personal worth and beauty. He’s Virgo rising and loves the science of it all, as well.

Joseph Trusso. Photo by Eric Francis.

A few minutes later he joined us, and noticing that we were studying his rock collection, started telling stories of how and where he found the specimens. The trilobitewere coated in iron pyrite (fool’s gold) and looked like they were alive and bathed in sunlight. The best Herkimers (diamond-shaped quartz crystals which form in extremely hard dolostone), he said, were often found after someone mining them was injured, often to the point of bleeding. He told one gruesome story of a major find involving a sledgehammer bouncing off the ridiculously hard rock and hitting someone on the forehead. The next day, the most magnificent Herkimers were found by the same person, right there. And he said a cluster in his display case had shown up after a pretty good hand injury he’d sustained. I asked if he thought there was some blood price involved, and he said he didn’t know — but that was typically how it happened.

I added a story about having my first and most severe asthma attack at the Herkimer mine many years earlier, where I was working helping with the macrobiotic catering of a crystal-digging trip.

Somehow the discussion evolved into the psychology of the question “why?” I said that lately I had been on a campaign against this word, which never seems to have an answer. I’ve noticed that people ask why when they don’t really want the answer; when people say “why?” it’s often like they’re announcing that they’re ready to stop thinking.

Joe responded by saying that Fritz Perls, one of his teachers and one of the founders of Gestalt Therapy, felt that the question “why?” was covering up a statement. For example, “Why are you going to the store?” is really statement of fact: “You are going to the store.” So on the surface it looks like question. Below the surface it’s really an affirmation of reality.

We went through a few examples of this. “Why are you going out?” equals, “You are going out.” “Why don’t you love me?” equals, “You don’t love me,” and so on. This by the way is a typically brilliant bit of Fritz Perls therapy judo, all of which is designed to reveal what is going on in the here and now. Once you admit what is so, you can work with it a lot better.

Finally he said, “What are you doing? Would you like to sit down?”

I was happy to. As a client of Joe’s through much of the 90s, I was familiar with the extent to which he values his privacy and time, and does not engage casually with his clients. Though I’m a former client, this is something I continue to respect. I was happy to accept his invitation. We stepped over in the direction of the chairs, a blue couch and matching thick blue club chair. The couch was usually reserved for him, the club chair for his clients. The same thing flashed through Joe’s mind and mine: who’s going to take the client chair? He looked at me and said with a joking tone, “I’m not sitting there.” I said, “Well I’m not sitting there.” We took the couch. Priya was happy to have the hot seat. The conversation, however, bore no resemblance to therapy. Right beneath the surface of our pastime discussion of the blood price of minerals and the question “why?” was a deep concern about the state of the world.

“When I come back into the United States,” I said, “the first thing I notice is that everything is bigger. The second thing I notice is that the problems we’re facing here seem much smaller or just disappear. From Europe, from a distance, it looks like a very serious situation. When I get here, life seems pretty normal. My friends are still doing their thing. Karen is still teaching dance and working for the rescue squad. Michael is doing his timber harvesting business, Chris is digging up old deeds as a title searcher, Jason and Brian are publishing Chronogram. The land is still here, the trees are here.”

“That may be because of who you know and where they are in life,” he said, suggesting that they’re in pretty stable places. They are also people who have been through a lot of changes consciously. “Many of the people I talk to are scared,” he said. He described a climate of fear that seemed to soak through and almost subsume many of the people he was speaking with, and he does speak with quite a few people. The existence of fear has never been much of a mystery to him. “There are a lot of scared people,” he once said to me, years ago, as a kind of warning. But this day, he was describing something different, something more ominous.

We agreed that our daily routines and activities hide most of this. Much of what we call culture masks over the underlying reality of what is happening in the world and how it’s impacting us as individuals. Britney Spears’ haircut comes to mind. It was not just the fact that she cut her hair off, making national news. It was that hour after hour, it was addressed on every “news and entertainment” program endlessly for three days, along with psychiatrists analyzing the meaning of it all, the hairdresser who refused to do the clipping being bestowed her 13 minutes of world fame, and the slew of young-women newscasters bantering on about how fucked up another young woman is.

However, there is still gasoline, most people have jobs, and as Joe pointed out, “This room is 70 degrees.” So as long as there are no major disruptions to life, such as your house getting flooded by climate change or not being able to get to work because there is no gas or it’s $12 a gallon, or you were arrested for sending an email, most people can live the illusion that things are fine; all the while things keep getting weirder. We have the choice to either not pay attention and pretend it doesn’t really matter; or to pay attention, feel the fear, feel the anger, and deal with the changes in a creative or at least constructive way.

I talked a bit about my recent trip to Auschwitz and how it was impossible for me to ignore reports of Halliburton building detention facilities in the United States, or triple-decker train cars outfitted with shackles. There, getting your head shaved had a different meaning. Another Taurus, Bono, once remarked that sometimes a conscience can really be a pest.

Meanwhile, there is a bloodbath going on in Iraq, and all the attention and money is being diverted there while the real terrorist action is in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bush professes his admiration for General Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan, who overthrew the government in 1999 and declared himself president in 2001; many believe he is also keeping bin Laden tucked away, which is a logical supposition. He and Priya knew a lot more about this situation than I did. The reeking hypocrisy of Bush’s relationship with Musharraf is lost on nearly everyone.

And all the while, evermore blood is being soaked into the ground right where the oil is being pumped out of the ground, as if the Earth is exacting a price for the mineral wealth we are mindlessly exploiting in our huge cars, SUVs and tons of virgin plastic garbage bags.

As all this happens, the most severely injured American servicemen and women are coming home to a rat and mice-infested Walter Reed Army Medical Center, learning to walk on fake limbs as the moldy ceilings and walls crumble around them. John Cory wrote on Truthout this week, “Every Congressional office should be flooded with phone calls and email demanding not only an investigation, but also immediate funding and corrective action on the treatment of our veterans. Viewers should require every media outlet that has dedicated untold hours and resources to the Anna Nicole Smith story to cover the failure of this administration to prioritize the healing and medical support of our troops and the wounded and their families.”

This occurs while I’m seeing more and more propaganda about Iran in the American press and television, which we have covered recently in Planet Waves. The kind of indoctrination campaign we’ve witnessed many times before, including warming up for Bush War I and Bush War II, is underway with Iran: they are supplying weapons to the insurgency, they are developing a nuclear program, on and on — all reasons to start the bombing. Aircraft carrier groups are assembling in the Persian Gulf, and to anyone who was paying attention as the last few wars happened, it seems that another one is underway.

In an editorial titled, “Making Martial Law Easier,” the editors of The New York Times earlier this week warned, “A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill, at the Bush administration’s behest, that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.”

I think we need to be thinking not only about why such laws are being passed, but more to the point, the fact that they are being passed secretly, and how they are not getting more press attention.

The Times followed up with a second editorial later in the week, called, “American Liberty at the Precipice.”

“In another low moment for American justice,” the editors wrote, “a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that detainees held at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to be heard in court. The ruling relied on a shameful law that President Bush stampeded through Congress last fall that gives dangerously short shrift to the Constitution. The right of prisoners to challenge their confinement — habeas corpus — is enshrined in the Constitution and is central to American liberty. Congress and the Supreme Court should act quickly and forcefully to undo the grievous damage that last fall’s law, and this week’s ruling, have done to this basic freedom.”

And finally, as of press time, the jury is still out in the Scooter Libby case. Though this is on one level about the spy-outing situation, it’s really a trial about how the Bush administration used false “intelligence” to convince Congress and the public to go along with the plan to invade Iraq, and took revenge on someone who told the truth. “There is a cloud over the vice president — a cloud over the White House over what happened,” according to a copy of the transcript of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s closing statements to the jury.

Remarkably, this only seems to make the smallest difference to most people; it is barely making national news. Yet what it adds up to is fear, a corrosive, toxic fear that is slowly smothering people, eating away at all our lives from the bottom, even as we drive to work every day, even as we eat dinner every night, even as the news drones on about Anna Nicole Smith’s body. We will have a lot of explaining to do to our grandchildren, when they are old enough to understand.

Joe’s feeling was that as long as life continued as usual, people could stay asleep and the damage would continue to happen. Basically, he felt that the most effective thing would be a disruption that would break some of the fixed mental patterns and raise awareness — something many people feel is coming — and which others feel is necessary so that we don’t get caught in the crystallized negative patterns that are forming at the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.

And he pointed out a paradox that I’ve noticed many times, which makes the idea of a “disruption” seem like not such a good thing to mess with. People who are into war and violence have an advantage, because they are willing to kill and terrify people, and do so readily; whereas people who are into peace are generally not willing to kill or resort to extreme measures. They are as a result subject to having brute power used against them, which they cannot and will not marshal themselves. What they can do, however, is be intelligent, clever and willing to work together — which is more difficult and takes a lot longer than using force and fear, and is still subject to attack by those things.

I sat there with Joe and Priya in a room where I had learned so much about myself, where I had decoded my parents and confronted my father, and discussed all my major stories as an investigative journalist, and through all the times I had played for keeps with state officials in court, and experienced so many changes. This was quite literally the room where I had learned to be a man, and come to many realizations about what my life means.

To the extent that I am able to take on the challenges of the world rather than be in a constant state of war within myself, I have my own determination and my work with Joe to thank. And at that moment I was aware that I was no longer a client, no longer one being mentored, but one who was doing my best in the world to live for, support, and when necessary, fight for the values of dignity and freedom. One of Joe’s favorite concepts is ethos, something I was aware of in the world when I walked into his space the first time. I see ethos as a sacred flame that is passed from one generation to the next, and which lights the darkness of the world.

Most of our discussions had happened in a different time; my last official session with Joe was Aug. 11, 1999 — the day of the grand cross and total solar eclipse in Leo. The world has changed a lot since then; indeed, we seem to live on a different planet, one with far less hope but also fewer possibilities. But Joe had once said that if he were to hang a sign above his door, it would say, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

The light had faded outside and a beautiful late afternoon had dissolved into a cold winter night. It was a much gloomier discussion than I had planned to have, but in the Gestalt spirit, it was indeed a discussion of what is so. I kept wishing the fireplace next to me were lit.

Joe said he had to move on with his evening, but before doing so, he wanted to show us some old Japanese woodcut prints. This was an unusual invitation, into his private living space for a brief art tour. Looking back on this, I have a feeling the invitation may have been designed to leave us in a different here-and-now than the one we had worked our way into, though I don’t know. Focus on beauty is one of those dependable Gestalt techniques; in truth, beauty is the remedy for all that is wrong. The prints were magnificent, the colors rich and unworldly. He explained that the woodcuts were made and aligned perfectly by hand, and at some point had been clipped from a travel guide, surviving well over a century and ending up on that wall.

Joe finally walked us downstairs, and out through the garage. We had to pass through the room where he does his work on rocks and minerals, and I got to see the diamond saw for the first time. I asked if I could take his picture, something I’ve been doing on this trip with everyone I remember to ask. We said goodbye, hugged, and I heard several admonitions to pay attention and take care of myself — not the “have fun” which was his usual way of saying goodbye, and the best advice I’ve ever been given. He reminded me that I’m doing good work in the world, a comment that means more to me coming from him than anyone. Maybe it was the damp, foggy night. But honestly, I have never had such a strong feeling of walking away from him and into an uncertain world, not my own life but the world itself, one possessed less with the feeling of an adventure and more the feeling of a dark dream, but with enough light in my mind at least to see where I’m going.

Being aware of this dark dream is not “focusing on the negative” but rather, focusing on what is so. Then, maybe instead of asking why, we can address the facts, and dream a new dream.

Forest in winter, Shawangunk Ridge, New York State. Photo by Eric Francis.




Weekly Horoscope for Friday, February 23, 2007, #651 – By ERIC FRANCIS

Aries (March 20-April 19)
Talent is potential, until it manifests in you. Then this quality you seemed to have an external relationship with, as if you were reaching for it, appears inside you as a tangible awareness with the strength to change the world. It may be that developing your gifts is about taking them back from the outer world into your inner one, or it may be that what you saw outside yourself is simply who you are. This same property can work in your relationships, though it’s difficult and not really appropriate to keep an inner focus entirely. For the moment, I suggest aiming for one-third outer world, two-thirds inner world.

Taurus (April 19-May 20)
You are learning, and by all indications you are learning well. Venus in Aries says that a new phase of your life has begun quite suddenly. Here was the trick you did. It involved discovering your chameleon-like quality, and giving yourself the freedom to experiment with identity, your role in the world and in the lives of your friends, your responses to life circumstances and moreover, who you believe yourself to be on the inside. That led to a discovery, mainly the one that you’re actually free to be the person you want to be — and nobody can hold you to it.

Gemini (May 20-June 21)
Focus on your friends. They are amazing, and they are showing their fire of a thousand colors. You have some extremely interesting stuff going on for you professionally, and I don’t suggest you neglect it; indeed, indulge yourself. But the reason the whole trip is worth the paper your birth certificate was printed on is because of the people you love, with whom you can share energy and experiences. The world is in an outrageous state at the moment, and yet you have your moment to grow with it, to change it, to become as it becomes. Make your contribution well, and then keep going.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)
Try not to judge your progress, your lack of progress, or your relationship to a particular long-term goal. Mercury retrograde, particularly the current one, is for you one of those moments where you can’t quite assess what is what or who is who. There is a great deal of value in living with the mystery of it all, though you will need to be strong not to jump to any conclusions. Indeed, conclusions need to be the last thing on your mind, because in truth you’ve just arrived at the beginning of something, or that indescribable time before the beginning.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
Someone whose feelings may have made no sense at all is suddenly making a lot of sense. Someone you feel may have been neglecting you suddenly shows up as protecting you and providing a dependable source of wisdom. It’s funny how perceptions can change, how they can be wrong, and how they can make no sense at all until that moment when they add up to something perfectly reasonable. What’s more interesting is how logic can exist on two levels, one which is internally consistent, and one which makes sense in the outer world. Occasionally there is a moment when the two intersect.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
Distance matters not; awareness is what counts. People can be in the same room and have no awareness of the other’s true experience; they can be in different continents and engaged in perfect empathy. Often this paradox is the source of sadness. In these unusual days, allow it to be a testament to what is possible. The deepest gift you can receive now is feeling how real you are to the people around you. Set your own experience aside and notice what they are observing, feeling, and becoming as a result of connecting with you. Feel your own feelings influence the whole environment of the relationship, and let this remind you how gentle to be.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
You can experiment with the idea that every meeting is a meeting with yourself. This may seem boring, but if so, you haven’t figured out how interesting you are, and how interesting you become when self-awareness is the meaning of your existence. What is most surreal about meeting “you” is how different you are than the person you previously thought of as yourself. You are meeting you in the true present, not the you who has carried around the weight and uncertainty of the past, its sorrows and its fears. Know yourself as you truly are, and remember every day to meet yourself again.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
Often the people closest to us can lead us out of our pain. If we resist the changes they go through, we also resist the process of allowing freedom. We may fear that when someone changes or grows, that will shock us out of our reality — which is precisely the point. You are learning to relate to life, to people, and to yourself from your very depths. You have agreed to honor only what is most important to you. The revelations of someone you care about deeply will be your faithful guide to keeping this promise to yourself, and will only bring you closer.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Every new creation helps open the way to personal rebirth. Many people resist the creative process specifically because it compels us to be in the moment, free of history. You are not faint of heart, but there are times when even you fear the disorientation that would come with total honesty with yourself. You are not being compelled to admit something to someone else, or to betray any confidences. Rather, you are being asked only to admit your true feelings, your deepest needs, and your most basic fears.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
Small decisions mean a lot now. Seemingly subtle choices to align with your deepest truth, or even basic truths, will take you further than they ever have. You’ve been in this place before, and you’ve forgotten before. Never has the potential for progress been so strong, though. Never has something that so easily hides, is obscured or forgotten been so conscious, tangible, and available. Another way to put it is like this: safety is a choice, but the reality of this choice is very rare to feel and even rarer to acknowledge. Try it and see what happens.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
To understand growth, we need to understand the role of denial, and be vividly honest about it. Our entire way of life is based on denial, and as a result, our psychological constructions are supported by denial. You can rarely mention this because the moment you do, everyone typically refuses to admit it, at once proving and obscuring the point. This game is only possible if you look to others to validate your own revelations. You don’t need to, and whether anyone cares or notices what you are becoming aware of in truth does not matter. What matters is that you remember, and that you put your revelations to work in your life. Your choices will speak a lot more loudly than your ideas.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
Suddenly it’s become ridiculously easy to love yourself. What you don’t need to doubt is how effective that faith can be at healing your life, healing your world, helping the people you care the most about, and most of all, setting you free from doubts you may have lived with from the first conscious thoughts that went through your mind. Fair is it to say that you are discovering your true nature in these very days, and the truth of your value to the world. Since your life is all about giving yourself to the world, rejoice that you’re discovering all you have to give.

Leave a Comment